06/23/13 Paul Armentano

Paul Armentano of NORML re plethora of positive studies on cannabis, Ethan Nadelmann Dir of Drug Policy Alliance + Doug McVay with Drug War Facts & Abolitionists Moment

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Sunday, June 23, 2013
Guest: 
Paul Armentano
Organization: 
NORML
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Transcript

Cultural Baggage / June 23, 2013

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[music]

DEAN BECKER: Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

“It’s not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally Un-American.”

“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”
“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”

DEAN BECKER: My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on Eternal Drug War.

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DEAN BECKER: We got a wonderful, jam packed show for you. Let’s get started.

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PAUL ARMENTANO: I’m Paul Armentano. I’m the Deputy Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

We are living at a time where we have unprecedented research taking place in regards to the therapeutic properties of cannabis as well as to the safety of cannabis. We’re also living in an age where we as consumers, as advocates have unprecedented access to this research.

DEAN BECKER: You recently completed your own study and released that in combination with several others. Is that correct?

PAUL ARMENTANO: Yes. There is a new edition of the Humbolt Journal of Social Relations. This issue is dedicated to the science of cannabis. I’m a contributor to this edition of the journal as are several other people who may be known to advocates and reformers like Amanda Reiman from the Drug Policy Alliance, Wendy Chapkis..but my particular submission was in regards to the science surrounding cannabis and psychomotor performance. In particular I offered a critique of many of the proposed per se standards that have been introduced and have, in fact, been enacted in several states that try to predict behavioral impairment based on the presence of either THC or THC metabolites in the blood and urine.

As I discuss in my paper there is no sound science at this time showing that one can definitively correlate or predict cannabis induced impairment based solely on the presence of THC or its metabolites.

DEAN BECKER: A few weeks back I was talking with your associate Mr. Stroup about this very subject and the fact of the matter is I brought up the thought that if pot did not have that lingering aroma it would be very difficult for police to determine anybody that had used cannabis.

PAUL ARMENTANO: Definitely we do see cases where law enforcement suspect an individual to be under the influence of a substance other than alcohol. In those instances if an arrest is made it is not uncommon for some sort of pathological examine to be given. In those cases there is a greater likelihood that marijuana is going to show up in these drug screens than other potential substances whether they be other illicit substances or prescription drugs and that simply has to do with the unique pharmacokinetics of cannabinoids. They are present in the blood and they are present in the urine (particularly of habitual users) for much longer periods of time than are these other substances.

Anytime we’re talking about a policy that tries to infer some sort of impairment or, in this case, infer criminal activity based on the detection of the presence of these compounds or their metabolites we are talking about policies that are potentially discriminatory against individuals who use cannabis because there’s just a much greater likelihood that those compounds will be detected in those users compared to users of other substances.

DEAN BECKER: Really the whole of the drug war is kind of a minority report mentality that infers incapacity, that infers potential mayhem from drug users.

PAUL ARMENTANO: You’re exactly right. The entire basis of the drug war is largely what I would call based upon the worst case scenario. When Americans think about alcohol their initial visceral reaction is not the skid row alcoholic sleeping in the ally but, of course, there is a fringe portion of alcohol users that do fit that description but we do not legislate alcohol policy based on the notion that the majority of individuals who consume alcohol will end up in that worst case scenario.

Yet when it comes to illicit drugs whether it be cannabis or other substances we appear to legislate and criminalize these substances based on the notion that somehow the majority of people that consume these substances end up as the worst case scenario when, of course, we know it is far from the truth.

We’re at a tipping point where we have the majority of the public now acknowledging that it is time to pursue alternative marijuana policies. We have only a minority of the public that now endorses the status quo – the criminalization of marijuana and of marijuana users.

What is also exciting in addition to seeing this change in public opinion among the general populace is seeing a similar shift take place among the movers and shakers of the mainstream media and mainstream media pundits. There has been a very serious change in the way the mainstream media, newsmakers, pundits are talking about this issue. There has been an acknowledgement (sometimes publically, sometimes inferred) from these individuals that, in fact, cannabis law reform isn’t something just that is necessary but it is something that is, in fact, inevitable.

DEAN BECKER: You know, Paul, just last week the police chief of Houston, Paul McClelland, had an OPED in the Houston Chronicle calling on the legislatures (and I think he was appealing mainly to the federal legislators) to re-examine what they are doing, in particular, with the marijuana laws.

He says, “We’ll be good soldiers and do what we’re supposed to but, perhaps, the legislators should reconsider.”

I thought it was a very telling OPED.

PAUL ARMENTANO: It was a telling OPED for a number of reasons. One, as you pointed out, there seem to be a bit of skepticism among this police chief that, in fact, it was a good use of law enforcement resources to continue to pursue marijuana offenders.

I believe also, if I recall, that the police chief was responding, in part, to the recent ACLU report showing this significant racial disparity in who is arrested and prosecuted for minor marijuana offenses.

I also want to pick up on what you quoted from that editorial where the police chief referred to himself and his fellow law enforcement colleagues as “good soldiers”. I found that reflection to be quite alarming because there was a time when law enforcement officers referred to themselves as “peace officers.” “Soldiers” belong on battlefields not patrolling America’s streets.

I think that part of the problem that we have and one of the offshoots of the drug war is this notion that the American public is now the enemy and law enforcement are now the soldiers who go into battle to kill the enemy. That is not the kind of dynamic we should have between the public and law enforcement.

DEAN BECKER: I couldn’t agree more with you, Paul. I have scheduled an interview with the police chief for next week. I’ll be sure to ask him about that sentence – about being “good soldiers.”

The drug war seems to be unwinding not just in America but around the world. We have a lot of indications that other nations are just sick of it.

PAUL ARMENTANO: We’ve had those indications for quite some time. Certainly if we look to western Europe we see that most of Europe have already abandoned this sort of “tough on drugs” criminalization policy embraced by the United States and clearly when we look at some of our allies south of the border (not just in Mexico but in South America as well) there is very vocal criticism of the “tough on drugs” policy that America has embraced not just here but has exported overseas.

It is clear that a number of these countries are no longer allies in sort of “War on Drugs” that America has been pursuing. Unfortunately it does not appear that these changes that are taking place globally are having a lot of influence on the federal policy makers here at home.

DEAN BECKER: I’m a LEAP speaker. I’m a legalizer outright and I know that the beginning, the unwinding of this drug war begins with the regulation, legalization, control of cannabis.

PAUL ARMENTANO: By in large the drug war as we know it exists, it survives, it thrives largely based on the criminalization of cannabis because without cannabis users being stigmatized and criminalized by this policy there is no overall justification for a drug war policy and the billions of dollars behind it because there simply is not enough consumers of the other illicit substances to justify this type of large scale policy.

Over 50% of the arrests of the majority of illicit drug users are cannabis users. Removing them from the equation cripples the U.S. drug war. So, yes, I agree with you that once we remove cannabis from this failed federal policy and we legalize it and we regulate it then we are never going to return to the type of anti-drug policies in the future that are in any way, shape or form resembling the type of policies that we have now.

Individuals who want to help speed up this process then they do need to get involved. They can get involved with a group like NORML by going to our website, http://www.norml.org. They can get involved in reforming the larger drug war by going to a group like the Drug Policy Alliance. There are ample opportunities for people to get involved in this movement.

They also ought to get involved at the local level by either getting involved with a NORML chapter or by writing letters to the editor for their local newspapers. It is very important that individuals at the local level engage in these type of conversations with their friends, with their families, with their co-workers, with their editors of the paper, with the members of their city council and with their state and elected officials.

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It’s time to play: "Name That Drug - By It’s Side Effects!"

Headache, low blood pressure, dizziness, fainting, unexpected sleepiness, nausea, excess perspiration, trouble controlling your muscles (dyskinesia), hallucinations, uncontrollable gambling urges, compulsive eating and increased sex drive.

(((gong)))

Time’s up! The answer from Boehringer Ingelheim laboratories:

Mirapex! For restless leg syndrome (RLS)

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[bagpipes: Amazing Grace]

This is abolitionist moment. To continue to the Drug War is lockstep idiocy. Such a deviation from fact, from cause and effect; blaming the problems of Drug War on the drug users. Let’s return to the U.S. Constitution, judge people by their actions, not the contents of their pocket or garden. Washington and Jefferson grew marijuana. Franklin was a known opium user. JFK used methamphetamine. Little W used cocaine and alcohol to excess. Clinton and Gore smoked marijuana and Obama used both cocaine and marijuana. Drug use, ‘youthful indiscretions,’ would seem to be a prerequisite to getting elected. With $400 billion per year in profits the terrorists, cartels and gangs continue to buy the necessary fear in congress, in the major media and on the streets of America. The only people -- the only people -- who benefit from this ninety-four-year old war on non-Fortune 500 produced plant products are the cops and the criminals. The rest of us lose. You, me and 300 million of our fellow Americans, we all lose. Not to mention the hundreds of millions of users worldwide who are forced by U.S. mandated drug prohibition to bow before the ‘morals’ of those whose posturing finances terrorism and deception; who motivate and enrich criminals worldwide via their misguided and illogical policy; via their wielding of financial leverage on nearly every government on the planet to participate in this Drug War. Their feigned ignorance serves as a badge and the fear they generate serves as a bludgeon.

Please do your part to end the madness of Drug War. Visit our website: EndProhibition.org.

Do it for the children.

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DEAN BECKER: Well, folks, I don’t know if you had the chance to catch one of the most recent editions of Rolling Stone but contained within their pages was an indication or thought that our next guest should be the next Drug Czar. With that I want to welcome the Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Ethan Nadelmann. How are you doing?

ETHAN NADELMANN: Good, Dean, thanks so much for having me on.

DEAN BECKER: Ethan, that issue of Rolling Stone was dealing with cannabis quite a bit – talking about its acceptance within society, right?!

ETHAN NADELMANN: That’s right. It was a special issue about marijuana. It talked about what is going on with the legalization market and the transformations of the marijuana market. It had a nice piece by Bill Maher in it and a nice profile about me and my work over the years as well.

DEAN BECKER: Let’s talk about your tenure, if you will. You’ve been at this 15 years – how long, sir?

ETHAN NADELMANN: Oh, Dean, since before you were born, man. I really got going on this back in the late 1980s. In fact, I think the piece talked about my quote/unquote “coming out” speech which was at a conference at a defense intelligence college at Fort Bowling Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C. back in 1987.

It was just as the drug war hysteria was building to a peak. I was on a closing panel together with the number 2 guy with the DEA and the number 2 guy with the state department of narcotics bureau and somebody from the military involved with drug enforcement and my dissertation advisor at Harvard who did not particularly agree with me. I just let it rip telling those guys that a couple hundred U.S. intelligence analysts that they were not that much different than the prohibition agents back in the 1920s, early 30s and would one day be perceived as such.

People hooted and shouted and yelled, “What’s he doing here?!” That was probably the toughest speech I ever gave and that was the first one. Ever since then I’ve just been plugging away at this stuff. Most days I feel I’ve just begun to fight.

DEAN BECKER: We’re still fighting aren’t we?! The truth of the matter is what you said not 15 but 25 or 26 years ago is still relevant, is still pertinent, still needs to be heard doesn’t it?

ETHAN NADELMANN: I think so. The nice thing is what I and a few other people like Milton Friedman and William Buckley and Kurt Smoke and Joe McNamara who was then the Police Chief of San Jose, California and Ira Glasser who was at ACLU – we were a relatively small number of lone voices back in those days basically saying this stuff.

At that point probably the percent of Americans who favored legalizing marijuana was down to about 23% or so. Things truly have changed. Some have died like Milton Friedman and William Buckley but we have been surrounded by many, many more voices including many mainstream voices. Not necessarily national elected political officials but at other levels we’re really seeing a transformation in who is willing to say the sorts of things we were willing to say 25 years ago and at the same time, of course, we’re seeing this incredible transformation of public opinion on the marijuana issue.

Going from 23% in favor of legalizing back in the mid-80s to over 50% today. We’re also seeing the transformation of public opinion about America’s love affair with incarceration. More and more people – even Republicans/conservatives/Christians – what have you – are basically saying we’ve gone too far in that regard and we got to pull this back, we’ve got to roll this back. There is something fundamentally wrong not just from the fiscally perspective but from a moral perspective as well with being the world’s leading incarcerator – not just in absolute numbers but in proportional numbers. It just un-American.

I think that’s less of a dramatic transformation than we’re seeing with marijuana but it’s one that’s incredibly important in terms of the most basic things that we’re fighting for which is people’s freedom.

DEAN BECKER: I think about the situation, the circumstance in California and many of the other medical marijuana states where people are trapped for having too many baggies – called a trafficker – that kind of thing. There are these little nit-picky things that eat away at this new policy we are trying to put forward, right?

ETHAN NADELMANN: It’s a weird time, Dean. If you think about it one of the things that are frequently said about marijuana prohibition is that there is no other law on the books which is so widely and harshly enforced yet where a majority of Americans don’t even believe it should be on the books any more.

There have been other things where people say maybe a majority say we don’t need this law but, in fact, the government is not really enforcing it. But here you have a thing where hundreds of thousands of Americans every year are being arrested - many of them spending from a night or two in jail to years behind bars for something…buying, growing, using, consuming that a majority of Americans think should now be legal.

The need for our efforts to continue and to become more sophisticated and ever more effective – there’s no question that that is what needs to happen.

DEAN BECKER: Was it yesterday or the day before that the Boston Globe had a story about the mainstreaming of marijuana. It had a quote from you and a couple of our friends in there. It’s becoming normal, becoming accepted – almost across the board the mainstreaming.

ETHAN NADELMANN: When you think about the organization NORML which has been active longer than anybody and which has played such a pivotal role in the 1970s with the leadership of Keith Stroup in terms of opening this issue up back then and the decriminalization of marijuana in almost a dozen states back then and which has continued to be significant in terms of its social media presence and becoming the movement of the marijuana – the organization of the marijuana consumer – NORML was all about that, right?! It was about the normalization of marijuana in our society.

For most of us that does not mean the glorification of marijuana. It does not mean the glamorization of marijuana. It does not mean the promotion of marijuana. It just means not getting all worked up about marijuana. It means understanding that this is a plant and a chemical and a substance which is a net benefit for many people – tens of millions of people in their lives – but which is also a drug which can be used in problematic ways and we need to try to minimize the harms of marijuana.

I think that’s what it’s really about and I think the piece in the Boston Globe which talked about the transformation of marijuana in the entertainment media….and, I think the point I made was it so much resembles the transformation that gay people have been portrayed in the entertainment media. You go from something shown in the most dramatized versions or the most hysterical versions to almost becoming barely part of the storyline or just something that is used to set a context – a context of tolerance, a context of a slightly more hip part of society or something.

I think that’s a major step forward. I’ll also say that sometimes I wonder….there’s this obvious interplay between the political work that we do that has a real impact on the ground, the political work that we do that is covered by the media and then the entertainment culture. There are just normalizing it.

Think about the late 1980s or the early 90s drug war as the drug version of McCarthyism in American society. Just as McCarthyism peaked in the early 50s it’s resonance was still being felt into the 1960s and the early 70s.

The drug war peaked in the late 80s and the early 90s but its resonance continues to be felt in until this day.

DEAN BECKER: Friends, we’ve been speaking with Mr. Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

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DOUG McVAY: World Drug Day is June 26. No, that's not a bigger version of April 20th. The full name is The International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's website, quote: Established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1987, this day serves as a reminder of the goals agreed to by Member States of creating an international society free of drug abuse. End quote.

The theme for this year is: Make health your 'new high' in life, not drugs. Sounds great to me, I don't know anyone in their right mind who would argue with that.

The UNODC website further notes that, quote:

Leading a healthy lifestyle requires making choices that are respectful of body and mind. To make healthy choices, people - particularly the young - need guidance from role models and need to get the right facts about drug use. End quote. Again, sounds great, no arguments.

Now we come to the problem. Quote: UNODC and its campaign only focus on drugs under international control, as specified in the three multilateral treaties that form the backbone of the international drug control system. These illicit drugs include amphetamine-type stimulants, coca/cocaine, cannabis, hallucinogens, opiates and sedative hypnotics. End quote.

And there's the rub. As loyal listeners know, the biggest drug problems in this country and around the world are alcohol and tobacco. Anti-drug campaigns which only address illegal drug use fail for that reason. This is simple stuff, one would think that these agencies and their officials many of them with advanced degrees and years of experience in politics and government would get it right, or at least understand how their limited remit hampers their effectiveness. But sadly no.

Instead it falls to people like us, the reformers and legalizers, the critics and gadflies working with nonprofits and NGOs or just on our own, to point out what scientists and researchers have been saying for years. It's thankless. And it's frustrating.

So this year, let's do something about that. This year, on June 26th, let's all join in observing World Drug Day. And more than observing, let's take it over. Write letters to the editor, blog, post on facebook and twitter, talk to friends, young people, teachers, politicians about the harm which society does to itself with alcohol and tobacco. Point out that about which our society is in denial: That alcohol and tobacco are drugs, no less, no more. The truth, they say, will make us free, so maybe when we as a society finally accept the truth about alcohol and tobacco, we will be free to deal seriously with drug use.

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay with Common Sense for Drug Policy and Drug War Facts.

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DEAN BECKER: Thank you, Doug. I also want to thank Paul Armentano, Ethan Nadelmann and be sure to join us next week when our guests will be Emily Brady, author of “Humbolt: Life on America’s Marijuana Frontier.”

As always I remind you, once again, that because of prohibition you don’t know what is in that bag. Please be careful.

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DEAN BECKER: To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

Drug Truth Network archives are stored at the James A. Baker, III Institute for Policy Studies.

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org